Are Lets Plays ruining video game development?
On February 15th, 2016, American television and movie actor and independent journalist Tom Chick stated in his review for indie horror game Layers of Fear that Let's Play videos are ruining video game development. Let's Plays have always been controversial, but is Chick's statement of them ruining video game development true?
Chick's Opinion on Let's Plays
Chick was far from impressed with Layers of Fear, referring to it as a one trick pony. He says that the supposed scares would work in an actual game while not in Layers of Fear and that it is here to startle you.
This stuff might have worked as part of an actual game. For instance, a dream sequence in a Max Payne game. Or a level in Painkiller. Or maybe something where you have to go into cyberspace in Fallout 4. But when a game consists of nothing but the expected gimmicks, it gets tedious. When you have no rules, breaking rules is meaningless. The gimmick plays out and there’s still 90% of the playing time to go. All the while, there’s very little story and even less game. Pick up shreds of information. Listen to a snippet of bad voice acting. Infer what they mean if you want. Or not. Layers of Fear is mostly here to startle you.
Chick follows by saying that he suspects that Layers of Fear is designed as nothing but YouTube fodder and gives his opinions on the subject.
I suspect Layers of Fear was made specifically as Let’s Play fodder. This is what Let’s Plays have done to game development. Bloober, a studio whose previous claim to fame is a Bomberman clone, seems to have tailor-made a game for watching some idiot in an inset window shamelessly overact for his YouTube audience. With its short running length, its minimal storytelling, and its overreliance on jump scares, Layers of Fear seems to be chasing the success of Five Nights at Freddy’s. In other words, not so much a game as a tool to drive traffic to someone’s YouTube channel. That’s not game development. It’s pandering.
Is YouTube Fodder a real thing and does Layers of Fear fit into this category?
As sad as it is to say, yes, YouTube Fodder is indeed a real thing. A game that is classified as YouTube Fodder is essentially a video game developed targeting Let's Play YouTube channels and their audience. Most games of this form are short horror games consisting of nothing but cheap jump scares and are of questionable quality in most ways.
Questionable quality would include inferior graphics, incomplete and rough models and animations, bad sound design, terrible level design and most of all, not fun to play. A prime example of such a game would be Overcast: Walden and the Werewolf, a game which lacks in almost every way. The only positive of the game is its outstanding soundtrack.
Layers of Fear is not a game which I liked, but this is more due to my preferences in the horror genre. The game simply just doesn't click with me. That is not to say it is a bad game; other players do love it. Gameskinny's Ty Arthur gave the game a very positive review.
YouTube fodder has become a big thing where a one-man to a small team developer attempts to make a fast buck by creating such a game. If a critic were to play enough of them, it wouldn't be difficult to become somewhat jaded and even cynical.
Layers of Fear is not a game you can call YouTube Fodder; it has too many good qualities to it which Ty Arthur points out in his review. It is simply one of those games you will either love or hate.
Are Let's Plays ruining video game development?
There is no denying that Let's Plays have their good qualities along with their bad. To go as far as to say they are ruining video game development may be a bit much. It is true that there are a lot of terrible games out there which are YouTube fodder, but that isn't enough to say Let's Plays are ruining development.
Even before the phenomenon that Let's Plays started, there were always small independent developers who were attempting to get in on a trend. The amount of Minecraft clones that have appeared over the years alone should show this.
Video games go through trends just as much as anything else. An example would be the zombie trend. For a good few years, developers big and small were releasing zombie games left, right and center. Some were great, some were okay, and others were downright terrible.
YouTube fodder is just another trend where people are attempting to make a quick buck. It isn't something that is going to be around forever. Let's Plays cannot be held responsible for bad games. Even if they did not exist there would still be terrible games. With the likes of Steam Greenlight, it is much easier for terrible games to gain distribution than in the past. Not everything about Let's Plays may be ethical; there is certainly some aspects of them which are questionable. They are, however, not ruining video game development.